Cheltenham Jazz Festival Round -Up, April 30th & May 1st

Cheltenham Jazz Festival  just gets better. Uncertain sunshine and icy squalls couldn’t take the gloss off, although it may temporarily have driven a few punters out of the open air festival pitch in Montpellier Gardens. Capacity of the wallet and ability to absorb sublime music limited me to a couple of gigs on Saturday and delicious trio of them on Sunday, almost all of which have been reviewed by London Jazz News’ near wall to wall coverage , so brief impressions here.

Saturday

Having in recent years come across various alumni of either Birmingham, or Norway’s Trondheim Conservartoires, I thought it was about time I caught up with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange‘s now annual showcase of the current generation of students on Saturday lunchtime. Three ensembles, each a mixture of students from both institutions performed mainly original music seasoned with a few classics. The second drumless ensemble, performed a piece based around a haunting theme that emerged after much atmospherics, and the ethereal sound of Sondre Ferstad‘s harmonica. A sparse pulse from Ben Moorhead‘s bass anchored Simon Ovinge‘s Frisell-esque guitar solo, all lingering phrases and country-ish reverb.   Vittoria Mura‘s tenor completed the quartet that rather stole an absorbing show for me, sandwiched as they were between two very classy sets full of vim and explosive and exploratory playing.  An absorbing hour or so in the present that augered well for the future.

After a bit more dodging of showers, I was back in the Parabola Theatre for The Printmakers to show just why they’ve been nominated (again) for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.  After a few introductory riffles and sighs from the band, Breath Away developed a seemingly effortless headlong momentum, James Maddren on drums and Steve Watts‘ bass a master class in how to lock together and generate propulsive energy without filling all the space up. With Norman Winstone‘s vocal twisting around Mark Lockhart‘s sax it was glorious whilst being familiar.  Niki Iles‘ Tideaway had a ‘natural effects central’ intro with Winstone and Lockhart evoking breezes whilst Mike Walker supplied the seagulls from somewhere inside his guitar. His Clockmaker had the band flying and Maddren lighting a fire under them on a vamp out, no wonder Walker was grinning. They are surely one of our finest small groups, with a playful energy and restrained lyricism that enfolds the listener.

Sunday

It didn’t take long for the FDR Big Band to warm the cavernous Town Hall early on Sunday afternoon, playing Julian Arguelles‘ arrangements of South African Jazz, much of it penned by the exiles, like Chris Macgregor, Dudu Pukwana with whom he, brother Steve and Django Bates played. Those three were the guests with the big band. Arguelle’s arrangements were sublime, packaging up the irrepressibly joyous tunes and grooves for maximum impact and bouncing the melodies around the band, so they were like a massed choir.   The repertoire was largely that of the CD release Let It Be Told,  but this was a rare, possibly not to be repeated chance to see the live set. I for one left wondering how anything was going to come close for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).

Trumpeter Christian Scott provided a total contrast later in the afternoon on the smaller of the two tented stages, the Jazz Arena.  Tony Dudley Evans (who must have been getting quite a bit of exercise as he popped up introducing every band I saw), described Stretch Music as an embracing  different types and inspirations for music beyond classic jazz. That could have been a metaphor for the whole festival as I’d arrived there via the future  of North European jazz, the cream of English bands and a German big band playing South African music.  It was ironic then, that this set stretched the definition the least although it was no less thrilling for that. This was a new line-up for Scott, with alto Logan Richardson and pianist Tony Tixier joining Scott. As a result, there were just a couple of forays into stretch territory with pre-recorded loops, heavy beats, distorted twisting melodies and lots of effects producing ghostly hoots and keening screeches from the trumpet. Most of the set however was an exuberant, burning versions of some classics with Eye of the Hurricane, Equinox, a modal Donald Harrison piece that even had Scott quoting solos from So What before the tune suddenly veered off into a racing take on Miles Davis’ Dolores.  It was exhilarating stuff, Richardson showing just why he’s so lauded currently and TIxier on piano a revelation. The packed Jazz Arena crowd loved it.

My day ended with another contrast, back in the Parabola Theatre for a Sunday evening set IMG_0002.jpgwith Gioavanni Guidi‘s trio.  The intimate space could have been designed for a set like this.  The trio weave between quite simple themes, sometimes a tone poem, at others the most delicate of Bach – like decorated melodies, still others repeating growling motifs. There may be a hail of notes, sounding like they might be pouring from a bucket, or a single bell like tone allowed to fill the room. Joao Lobo shadowed and complemented every move with rustles, disruptive flurries of rhythm and moody squeals using what looked like random ‘objet trouves’.   A delightful set, ending with an encore of, getting its second airing of the day, the South African stomper, You aint gonna know me cos you think you me dedicated by a grinning Guidi to Claudio Ranieri.

There may be bigger festivals, there may be louder festivals, but the diverse programme and concentrated buzz of Cheltenham’s annual jazz feast is surely hard to beat.

 

 

 

The late list, my favourite moments and sounds of the last 12 months.

The ‘best of’/’highlights lists’ for 2015 have been and gone and there were a lot of them this year it seemed.  They are always entertaining. Jazzwise mag inveigled a huge cast list to each compile one with a complex point scoring system – always intriguing results.  I managed not to do one in December, or even early January (I just got busy… didn’t get around to it).  There is pleasure to be had in looking back however. So here we go.  It’ a very personal selection, dependent entirely on my idiosyncratic preferences and what may have appealed on a particular day or at different times.  Rules of my game are explained for Live thrills and recorded pleasures respectively.

Gigs & Live Moments  ( a small slice)

For a live gig or moment within a gig, the simple rule is  ‘Can I still conjure up the moment and the thrill?’, or maybe  it returns unbidden to give me a tingle of pleasure at the recollection.

Anthony Braxton at the Lantern, Colston Hall in Bristol for his only UK appearance. A unique and mysterious improviser I’ve remained haunted by the Ghost Trance Music

Julian Arguelles  at Cheltenham Festival with a septet playing inventive arrangements of his enchanting, exuberant music

When I looked back, I realised a trio of duos with Gwilym Simcock stuck out:

Gwilym Simcock/ Jason Rebello at Wiltshire Music Centre in the Bath Festival. Intergenerational? Maybe, but certainly interactive and plenty of fireworks alongside lyrical flights

Gwilym Simcock/ Brigitte Beraha at Falmouth University, an impromptu moment at the end of a solo concert, a moment of magic as piano and voice took flight together on I fall in love too easily

Gwilym Simcock/ Michael Wollny at a tribute to John Taylor, two former pupils of the maestro let fly on Ambleside Days, an extra ordinary moment.

Norma Winstone/ Ralph Towner Another tribute/ celebration and another duo.  These two slid into a version of Celeste that gave me goosebumps at an ‘Evocation’ of Kenny Wheeler’s music in London Jazz Festival.

Paolo Conte at the Barbican. Is it jazz? Cabaret? Pop?  Who cares – the veteran, unclassifiable  Italian crooner wove his spell and charmed everyone ( that’ll be me and what seemed like a significant proportion of Italian and Italian descended London residents)

Kamasi Washington at the Lantern again this time for one of two UK appearances(the Lantern had a good year for coups!) and demonstrating live with only septet (no massed choirs or orchestra on hand) why his debut deserved the title The Epic

I could list all those moments at my regular haunts (St. James Wine Vaults, Bath; BeBop Club; increasingly irresistible, The Hen and Chicken), however one each:

Iain Ballamy – at the Wine Vaults. Never knowingly miss an opportunity to hear him. Back in January last year at the Wine Vaults, just the theme from East of Sun was worth the trip.

Wildflower Sextet – at the BeBop Club early in the year. Any Wayne Shorter related outing is likely to get my but this sextet led by Matt Anderson were a particular delight.

Hotel Bristol –  at The Hen and Chicken. Fierce competition for this slot, but the Andy Sheppard orchestrated quartet has it with fierce blowing, delectable melodies and grooves and the inevitable top-drawer collaborators.

Recorded Music

In the case of  recorded music the question is ‘Do I still get the urge to play the CD/ Download?’     Memory can be deceptive and what happened most recently can loom larger than it should. Discovering that iTunes has sneakily logged a good proportion of my listening, reveals what have been the most frequent of my ‘just got to listen to that again’ or ‘I’m in the mood for..’ choices.  Taken alongside what has got stuck in my (old tech) six CD changer and picking a few faves from albums I’ve reviewed, generates a list that may reveal more about my preferences than anything else, but also looks pretty high quality to me.

 Heavily edited in the interests of not overdoing it –

Stuck in the CD changer

Kamasi Washington – all three discs of The Epic. It’s a throwback (whether jazz or dance music), its very current, its so the ‘next thing’, its irresistible.

Julian Arguelles – Let it Be Told,   Mining the South African repertoire and arranging for Big Band its fabulous (and coming to Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016)

Babelfish – Chasing Rainbows was this piano, voice, bass and percussion quartet’s second outing. Understated, fizzing with energy, creativity and exquisitely twisted melody.

Reviewed with humility and repeating on the playlist

Andy Sheppard  –  Surrounded by Sea.  Trio Librero with the addition of Elvind Aarstead, whisperingly magical

Charles LloydWild Man Suite, a unique instrumentation. Maybe only Charles Lloyd would respond to the suggestion of adding strings by doing it with lyra and cimbalom, but its vintage Lloyd

The Printmakers – its been a bit of wait, but in Westerly at last we have a recording of this sublime and joyful music from Brit super group

Others, some reviewed some not, but high on the count of ‘plays’

Bebe Buchanan Tagel  – Gone . Danish outfit, featuring that Arguelles chap again. Euro? Yes, lyrical? Yes? Distinctive – oh yes.  Thanks Peter Bacon for the review tip-off

Drifter  – Flow An Edition Records orchestrated quartet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano. Vibrant, exciting contemporary jazz

Mads La Cour – Almuji  I keep returning to this loose limbed, weaving in and out of structures blowing from the Norwegian trumpeter’s quartet

Eyebrow  – Garden City hypnotic and uplifting slowly evolving grooves and hooks from this trumpet, drums and effects duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens

Indigo Kid – Fistful of Notes Not nearly enough fanfare around this second outing for Dan Messore’s quartet playing his enticing and quirky melodies

Veneri Pohjola Another Edition Records release, early in 2015, Finnish trumpeter Pohjola on a set of emotion packed originals and the leaders gorgeous, bang up to date trumpet sound kept calling me back

 

CD round up – Printmakers, Lloyd and Sheppard. Three gems to savour

A quick CD round up is in order. Having devoured and reviewed these three albums for London Jazz News its hard to imagine them not being embedded in every play list and favorites compilation for sometime to come. First up was Charles Lloyd‘s clwmdWild Man Dance.  The Lloyd magic is partly in a cultivated, deceptively thin sound on tenor that insinuates its way into your soul, and partly in the performance he evokes from his bands that ebbs and flows magically. They were riveting at the London Jazz Festival and this album is a recording of the live premiere and is every bit as good My review for London Jazz is here. Album two was Westerly, the long awaited debut recording of Nikki Iles band WesterlyThe Printmakers  They’ve been touring for several years now and most recently spotted in these parts at the Wiltshire Music Centre a year or so ago. This was a sure fire winner with the band delivering a live performance on CD every bit has lyrical, nuanced and varied as a gig, my review here. Finally, equally sublime is Andy Sheppard‘s Surroundedlatest release for ECM, Surrounded by Sea. We had a foretaste of this group and the music at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in March (my round up of that event here on the Jazzwise site) so I was really looking forward to this one and it didn’t disappoint. Its outwardly the polar opposite of rumbustious Andy Sheppard of the Pushy Doctors, a quiet, pared back atmospheric affair with a  band mesmerisingly in tune with each other.  My review is here.  Three top drawer albums to savour.

Printmakers, classic jazz and Riff Raff – a week in the west.

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

It’s been quite a week for visitors to this corner of the west country. Last Saturday The Printmakers blew into The Wiltshire Music Centre and dazzled with their class. My account of that one found its way onto the Jazzwise site (here). Then on Thursday two more London based musicians popped up at St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Jim Mullen had such a good time playing with the host Jazz House Trio when he was down a couple of months ago, the word is he insisted on coming back to accompany singer Zoe Francis on her date at this gig that’s fast approaching local institution status. The instinctively grooving partnership of Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums is surely one of the things that keeps guests returning with enthusiasm,

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

their ever alert responsiveness make them the perfect hosts, no matter what the guests bring to play.  On Thursday it was a set of classic standards drawing on Ellington, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme and more. The mood was set by Francis’ clear toned, relaxed delivery: personal, but with fidelity to the swinging groove of originals or, as with Prelude to a Kiss and Swing Low, re-casting them as a crisp bossa. Jim Mullen was a delight. His solos were at once familiar, staying firmly within the language of bop, but still fresh and engaging. His instinct for creating melodic phrases and when to accelerate or hang back was a constant thrill. There was an added little frisson at the delicacy and intimacy of this performance  knowing just how raucous he can be in other settings, something we were reminded of by  DJ Tony Clark as he mischievously played an old Mullen recording the moment the band stopped that sounded for all the world like Freedom Jazz Dance performed by Led Zeppelin complete with rock vocals.

IMG_1082

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff at the BeBop Club

An equally sharp, but engaging contrast to the classic jazz of the Wine Vaults set was served up by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff on Friday night at Bristol’s BeBop Club. It was set of  almost all originals from the bass player leader’s pen, bang up to date with pieces that draw on influences from everywhere (modern classical, any number of national cultural sources as well as jazz) and wrap them in evolving compositions with shifting time signatures and insistent polyrhythmic grooves from the ever inventive Tim Giles on drums.  Brigitte Beraha‘s vocals were sometimes wordless, faultless in negotiating the angular melody and wild interval leaps on the opener Agile; sometimes delivering her lyrics penned to Manninton’s melody on tunes like the gorgeous Catch me the Moon. That was preceded by a spacious, moody intro from Ivo Neame on piano from which the singing, melancholic harmony gradually emerged. There was plenty of energetic and fiery soloing, Tom Challenger on tenor providing a hooting, rhythmic highlight of a solo on the second tune of the night (I missed the title!) The one cover was Bjork’s Anchor replete with lingering plaintive chords from Ivo Neame’s accordion and effect laden washes from Rob Updegraaf‘s guitar.  This was music to engage the head as well as the heart and made me want to listen again to peel back some of those layers.

It’s been a great week and there’s no let up. Jon Turney as ever has laid out the riches  on offer over the next week in Bristol and that’s with out dipping into the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival Programme next weekend  Bring it on and see you at Phronesis on Friday at the Colston Hall.

Jazz for the Summer in Bath and Bristol – Festivals, Residencies and Visitors.

The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options.  World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.

In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June.  An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June.  And there’s more, and more and more.  Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.

There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up.  The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT .  May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston,  guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again.  Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.

This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby.  Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour.  Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note.  It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.

 

 

The Printmakers, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Friday 10th May

Credit Brian O'Connor via Londonjazz

Credit Brian O’Connor via Londonjazz

I think it may be one of Nikki Iles’ characteristic traits. The trick of sidling up to even the most familiar of tunes or climatic moments, so that having been drawn in by a mysterious harmonic sequence or some textural ripples, you find yourself surprised as a singing melody or a racing groove has emerged almost un-noticed. It happens more than once on last year’s fine trio album ‘Hush’ and this gig started that way. The whole band joined in creating the atmosphere as Nikki’s resonant chords insinuated themselves into the concert hall at the fabulous, still new buildings, of the Royal Welsh College.  Somehow the music morphed and by the time they’d launched into Kenny Wheeler’s Enowena, a typically soaring melody of leaps, twist and turns over a racing even pulse, I was hooked. The repertoire, drawing on an eclectic range of sources from Steve Swallow, Ralph Towner, Joni Mitchell as well Niki Iles originals and the ever present Kenny Wheeler,  meant plenty of joyful exuberance in the playing suffused with a reflective almost sweet melancholia.  At one point, as Mike Walker explained the utterly bleak back story to Joni Mitchell’s ‘2 grey rooms’ a collective fit of giggles was needed to break the tension.

This a fabulous band of musicians who weave improvisations of real melodic beauty over complex and angular structures. Mike Walker’s gorgeous tune Clockmakers (is that one of my favourite tunes ever? .. maybe!) evoked a dazzling solo from Nikki, flowing, melodic line building on flowing melodic line. Mike Walker himself pulled out solo after a solo but a standout was on Kenny Wheeler’s Everyone’s Song but My Own. He found rhythmic figures and phrases that seemed to surprise even him. And flowing around, up and over it all, blending beautifully were Norma Winstone’s voice and Mark Lockheart’s saxophones. It was all propelled unfussily but with huge energy and subtlety by Steve Watts’ bass and the drums of James Maddren.  Just in case it all sounds a bit solemn, there was more than a twinkle in the eye as they played us out with a sort of rocky, scottish reel cum folk song written by Nikki giving Mike Walker the chance to rev up his rock chops on guitar before whipping off his glasses for the last time as if to say ‘what do think of that then?’ . They followed it with a wonky country style Steve Swallow song.  Its a testament to this band that they have quite a reputation with no recordings out there (notwithstanding the individual reputations of all them), but I hear a rumour that they may be putting that right soon. Can’t wait.